Business intelligence dashboards are stuck in the past. It may be controversial to say but it’s true – not much has changed over the past few decades when it comes to BI dashboards. Sure, we’ve defined some decent design rules, some guidelines for developing good, traditional dashboards. But a lot of the dashboards I see as VP of Solutions Delivery at arcplan don’t adequately address the needs of today’s executives, who need cross-functional views of KPIs from various departments in order to make good decisions. We aren’t living in a silo’ world; decision makers need regular access to KPIs from finance, marketing, sales, operations and HR to make good decisions. Do you have a dashboard that enables this kind of view?
If not, let’s examine what’s wrong with your BI dashboards:
1. Their silo’d foundation is a hindrance.
In the early years of data warehouse development, data was stored according to functional areas or departments. Finance, Sales, and Operations each had their own data marts and corresponding dashboards for each department. In today’s business environment, dashboards that are silo’d like your data don’t accommodate your needs. With hundreds or even thousands at KPIs in use at your company – and limited time to access and evaluate them all – a silo’d approach to data access is problematic. You need to access important information at a moment’s notice, not waste time logging into individual systems or viewing separate dashboards to get the data you need to make informed decisions. You’ve probably quickly grown weary of this process and you may even be settling for whatever information is most convenient to use, which – needless to say – is usually not the best option. An ideal dashboard solution bridges multiple information sources to give you a holistic view of the organization – one that matches your role and includes only relevant KPIs.
2. There’s a “Where’s Waldo?” element to finding the right KPIs.
Recently I had a meeting with one of arcplan’s customers in the US, who explained that their arcplan system has grown to manage 4,000 KPIs in just 5 years.
Did you know that only 24% of companies surveyed by BI Scorecard in 2012 consider their BI projects “very successful?” That is pretty sad. And yet Gartner says global BI spending will rise this year to $13.8B and $17.1B by 2016. Companies are still willing to invest massive amounts of money in business intelligence without being able to call these projects successful most of the time.
As a BI vendor, we’d be very concerned if our customers weren’t thinking of their arcplan projects as successful. So we dug through our customers’ most impactful BI projects and identified 5 key factors for long-term BI project success. These factors go beyond the solution-deployment advice you typically see from vendors – steps like “define what success is,” “find an executive sponsor,” and “go with an incremental approach.” While these are critical as well, the factors laid out below embrace 5 different segments of the project: the IT infrastructure, the data, the BI solution itself, the users, and corporate governance.
1. Link your various (clean) source systems
It’s normal for companies to have many information systems in place, from inventory management and ordering programs to ERP and CRM solutions, which may all run on different hardware platforms. The result is a heterogeneous and fragmented IT landscape, and it is often unavoidable. If you cannot reduce the number of systems in place, then ensure that all primary data sources have accurate data whose definition has been agreed upon organization-wide. In addition, be sure your business intelligence solution can serve as an umbrella over all of the systems that need to be linked. BI applications that connect to numerous systems are crucial to the success of projects in heterogeneous environments.
2. Choose your data wisely and compile it intelligently
Last week I had the pleasure of attending Collaborate 13, the Technology & Applications Forum for the Oracle Community, for the first time. Over 5,000 Oracle experts, users, and partners assembled in Denver, Colorado for a week of education and networking.
I was there as arcplan’s Director of North American Alliances to build and expand our partner community. As the most widely-used third-party BI frontend to Oracle Essbase, I was looking to meet with Essbase experts as well as Hyperion and OBIEE consulting and systems integration firms. Collaborate was an excellent way to get in front of these companies, who can benefit by adding arcplan to their solutions portfolio. I found a great deal of interest and acceptance of our positioning: arcplan as a lower cost, less complex, and quicker-to-implement solution than OBIEE; our extensive connectivity within and outside of Oracle databases; and our ease of use for developers and end users.
My colleagues mentioned that last year at our booth, the common theme of conversations was the challenges IOUG and OAUG members were experiencing around budgeting and planning. This year, however, the conversations tended toward challenges around reporting and dashboards – the importance of connecting all their data sources and making meaningful use out of the data they already have without having to build additional repositories or metadata layers. arcplan is a lightweight, flexible alternative to the Oracle and SAP BI tools many companies have in place that aren’t meeting their needs.
While I met with partners and our team manned the booth, our CEO Roland Hölscher attended Collaborate’s educational sessions…
The bring your own device (BYOD) trend has moved from hype to reality, from nice-to-have to necessity and from business option to expectation. It’s a workplace trend that’s driven by worker demands, and as many as 60% of organizations will give in to allow personal devices in the workplace by the end of 2013. In the same way, the new era of business intelligence is driven by consumer technologies like mobility and collaboration, and that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing such an uptick in mobile BI adoption plans this year…people are simply demanding it.
Mobile BI Plans
According to a 2012 benchmark study by Ventana Research on Next Generation Business Intelligence, 53% of companies are currently deploying or plan to deploy tablets in their BI environment, a trend driven by executives who use their own mobile devices for work and are asking for support. BI vendors have been quick to respond – like others, we released our own product, arcplan Mobile, in early 2011 in anticipation of the trend.
The 2012 Successful BI Survey by BI Scorecard revealed that organizations that have already deployed mobile BI and been successful enjoy an adoption rate of 39%, much higher than industry average. BI Scorecard founder Cindi Howson thinks mobile BI “will be the technology that helps BI become more mainstream and impactful.”
Advice for using business intelligence to keep winning
I like to channel surf, and one day I got sucked into the game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” I never watched it when it originally aired, but now I’m addicted! The show is set up like a school quiz, with contestants earning money when they answer questions correctly. The kicker is that the questions are based on things we learn in elementary school…things that are quickly forgotten since they’re not tested in everyday life. Once I really got into the show, I realized there are business intelligence lessons to be learned from it.
On stage with the contestant are a few 5th grade students who can help if the person chooses to “cheat” as they pursue the $1,000,000 prize. Let’s examine how each of the available cheats tells us something about BI dashboards.
Peeking is encouraged. If a contestant is unable to answer a question on their own, a “peek” allows them to glance at a 5th grader’s answer and decide whether or not they would like to use it. How does that relate to BI you wonder? Think about the predictive nature of BI – it allows you to peek into what may happen in the future so you can take corrective action today. Especially valuable for businesses whose markets are volatile and sales growth may change from one quarter to the next, or for businesses whose production costs fluctuate depending on circumstances – predictive analytics, what-if scenarios, and break-even analysis eliminate some of the randomness from your decision-making. Luckily with solutions like arcplan, it’s easy to add predictive elements like regression analysis and Monte Carlo simulation to your dashboards. So really, peeking on “5th Grader” isn’t that different from modern BI.
Copying is expected.